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ARKIB : 21/01/2001

English city renounces 800-year ban on Jews

LONDON - A British city has formally renounced an 800-year-old ban on Jews put in place by an earl widely regarded as the father of the English parliament.

''He wasn't a very pleasant man, he held these views and he put a number of people to death,'' Leicester City Council leader Ross Willmott told Reuters on Wednesday.

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, barred Jews from taking up residence in his adopted city in 1231, forcing landlords to pledge to keep them out.

''No Jew or Jewess in my time or in the time of any of my heirs to the end of the world shall inhabit or remain or obtain a residence in Leicester,'' Willmott quoted de Montfort's land charter as saying.

But de Montfort in 1265 also chaired the first English parliament to include representatives from shires and large towns in addition to bishops, lords and abbots.

Willmott said his council's cabinet had unanimously rejected de Montfort's charter on Monday ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday, and would bring the case to the full council later this month. ''There's been no opposition yet,'' he said.

Britain's Jewish community welcomed the move.

''This serves as a reminder that Britain too has known anti-Semitism, and Leicester, with its high proportion of ethnic minorities is setting an impressive example,'' a spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said.

But the renunciation does not revoke the charter, according to Pastor Barry Hallam of Leicester's Narborough Road Christian Fellowship, who led the renunciation campaign.

He said he was seeking a lord or a member of parliament's support to void the charter.

''Nearly 770 years ago it was politically correct to persecute Jews. Now it's not. But who knows in 50 years' time,'' Hallam said. ''I would hate to leave a precedent.''

He said he would stop short of asking the council to change street names memorialising the French-born earl, saying it would cause ''too much hassle''.

De Montfort University and Leicester's De Montfort Hall, an 88-year-old concert venue, said they would keep their names.

''I condemn the sentiments of the charter,'' De Montfort Hall manager Richard Haswell said. ''But the name De Montfort Hall is associated with high quality and multicultural art.'' - Reuters

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